An illustration of a proposed soft robotic spacecraft that could land on asteroids without bouncing, despite the low gravity environment.  The proposal by Jay McMahon at the University of Colorado won a grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which is designed to support far-out ideas that could be made possible.

Courtesy Jay McMahon

Soft, frisbee-like robots may one day be flying around asteroids, according to a University of Colorado scientist who won a NASA innovation grant to study the idea. Jay McMahon tells Colorado Matters the "soft bot" could adhere to an asteroid using something called van der Waals principles -- relatively weak forces that allow a gecko to climb walls, for example. 

NASA is interested in mining asteroids for water, which can be used to make rocket fuel in space, eliminating the need to send propellant from Earth. Its Innovative Advanced Concepts program funds research into ideas like McMahon's that sound like science fiction, but could be made real.

On Monday we spoke with Chris Dreyer of the Colorado School of Mines, who's part of a team exploring the idea of mining asteroids using concentrated sunlight. The program is holding a symposium in Denver this week.  

Watch a video:  

Video explaining the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program.